<
>

David Blatt cites 'concern' as Cavs prep for return to play

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio -- By sweeping the Boston Celtics out of the first round of the playoffs, the Cleveland Cavaliers saved themselves the stress that comes with an elongated series but gave themselves a new challenge to think about: How will they respond as a team to having eight days off in between Game 4 against Boston and Game 1 against the Chicago Bulls on Monday?

"It's a concern," Cavs coach David Blatt said Sunday after his team's final practice before it opens up the second round, "and I'd be lying if I said it wasn't because that's a long time, and our opponent obviously played games during that time."

The Bulls, who beat the Milwaukee Bucks by 54 points in a close-out Game 6 on Thursday, should be coming into the Eastern Conference semifinals with some semblance of game rhythm. The Cavs, meanwhile, practiced five out of the seven days they've had to wait since finishing their first-round series.

"I hope we respond well," Blatt continued. "Exactly what that's going to look like initially, it's hard for me to say. I don't know with this group. The only source that I can draw on is that we had a six- or seven-day layoff during the All-Star break and we came out fantastic against the Wizards, and I hope that we can do the same."

Cleveland actually had an eight-day window without games because of February's All-Star break and blitzed Washington in its return to the court, winning by a whopping 38 points.

Part of the Cavs' practice time in the past week, of course, was devoted to preparing a new rotation to account for the two starters in Kevin Love (season-ending shoulder surgery) and J.R. Smith (two-game suspension) they lost since the Celtics series concluded. However, and perhaps just as important, part of the practice time included live-action, five-on-five scrimmages to try to stay sharp.

"Not overwhelmingly so just because we can't afford to lose another body," Blatt said. "But we did mix in some."

Iman Shumpert, expected to start Game 1 in Smith's place, said the time off was welcome but acknowledged the tricky balance of sitting back while simultaneously staying ready.

"A gift and a curse," Shumpert said. "It's a good time for us to get a lot of rest, but at the same time, we want to stay active. I think we've had a couple days of practice where guys were really geared up. We got some intense scrimmages in. So, we should be all right."

Kyrie Irving said "you can never really simulate a playoff game in practice," but added that the Cavs picked up their intensity this past week, nonetheless.

"We've been going pretty hard in practice and sometimes we've had to stop it a little early, because guys haven't played in so long that even any type of live work that we do, guys are getting hit and ready to go out there and compete for playoff basketball," Irving said. "So for us we've tried to stay ready for these eight days and our days of preparation have been vital, and we're ready to play the Bulls."